Idea Into Story

Given that you have now worked your way through deciding what to write, you face the second critical hurdle: Deciding how to write the what. It may be difficult to believe, but sometimes this hurdle can loom much higher than the 'what' question. In fact, you may find that it causes you to reconsider your what. This is the transition from idea to story and it is not an easy one.

As I said earlier this is when you must decide the who, what, where, when, how and why of your story. There are an almost infinite number of ways to approach a story. This is also where the same idea can turn into two very different stories. I said that every idea has been done before, but every story hasn't been done before. Every story will be different.

When I was living in Korea the power would get shut off on the average of once a day. No matter how often I remembered to save what I was working on, I would still lose some material. If I rewrote ten minutes later what I just wrote, it would be different than the original. I know there are days when I write something that if I had waited another day and written, the entire book would have turned out very differently.

I cover each of the questions about story you must ask in various chapters in this book. There is the who (characters), the what (narrative structure and plot), where (setting), when

(beginning, pacing, ending), how (point of view) and why (intent, motivation).

In getting your original idea across to your audience, you have to decide the best mode and method to do that. What perspective or point of view should I take? First? Third? Omniscient? A combination? Where should the story start? How do I work in necessary background information? What subplots are needed to make the main story work? Can I tell my story that way and keep the reader interested? Can I pull off my surprise ending without cheating the reader? What sort of timeline should I use? How should the chapters be ordered? Should there be a prologue? An epilogue? All those and many more questions have to eventually be answered when deciding how to translate your idea into a story that will span a novel. And you have to remember that all the answers interrelate and affect each other.

For example, you have this magnificent idea for a novel spanning three centuries and multiple generations of a family on a farm in upstate New York and their trials and tribulations growing as America grows. You feel so good about your idea that you are ready to sit down at the keyboard and start typing right away. But first there are a few questions you have to ask:

-Where will I start? With the first settlers in the family or back in the "old country" to show how and why the family ended up in America? Or in the present and go backwards in time? How will I do the latter if I choose to go that way? Will I have someone find an old trunk in an attic full of papers, a diary, and photos? Why were they in the attic? Is the family moving and giving up the land and that adds a special touch and urgency to the story? Will I do parallel timelines? Jump back and forth? Will my reader be able to follow my moving in time?

-What will my perspective be? Will I focus on every member of the family? The women? The children? Maybe I'll take the perspective of the land itself, which is one of the constants through the story—but here I might not be able to talk about the son who goes off to the Civil War, you say. But if he is brought back and buried in the family plot and becomes part of the land itself he can tell his story, can't he? (see how every opportunity limits you only by the limit of you imagination?) Or perhaps I will tell the story of the family I want to highlight through the eyes of another family on the next farm.

-How will I deal with the family secrets, given that not everyone in the family knows everything?

-What is my intent? What do I want readers to feel when they finish reading this story?

-What is the climax of the story?

-Where will the story end? Can I close out all my subplots with that ending? Is my ending enough pay-off to the reader?

Do you see how you must think through many things before you start locking yourself in? The minute you write your first page you have reduced many of the possibilities of your technique and style, so it is best to answer many of your style questions before you start writing in order to pick the one you feel best suits the story you want to tell.

One way to view a novel is as a cross-country race. You line your characters up at the starting line and fire the gun. You have a pretty good idea of where you want the finish line to be and a rough idea of the course, but things happen along the way that will change the route. However, by the time all your characters get to the finish line, they will have to traverse the entire length of your story page by page.

There are six good questions to ask yourself before you begin writing:

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